10/16/2014 03:04 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

A Conversation on Getting Dressed


After reading a few pages of "Women in Clothes," I knew that I wanted to base my reviews on my ever-changing and inconsistent personal style woes which I am currently experiencing. Ever since I've turned 25, I realize that I have nothing to wear, and every day, I want to give all my clothes to the local Salvation Army and start over. However, I'm not sure if this current mentality coincides with the fact that the season has recently changed or the fact that nothing is really constant in my life right now (because as they say- I'm deep in the throes of my twenties.)

I came to this realization within the first few pages of reading "Women in Clothes," and since then, I've transformed a few of my opinions, buying patterns and changing my overall perspective on clothing, in a good way. The book commences with a Skype conversation between the three leading authors, Sheila Heti (How Should a Person Be), Heidi Julavits (founding editor of The Believer), and Leanne Shapton (Co-founder of J&L Books). Each author leisurely confessed that nothing changed since their last conversation, and it may have been due to where they are in their lives. I thought about how their "nothing new" mindset is probably related to their sense of personal style and why my changing lifestyle is a reflection of my non-existent (unidentifiable) personal style.

I'd also like to casually slip in that I managed to contribute some of my stylish thoughts to the book (just a few paragraphs about being black, and my love of gift-giving). Anyway, I started the book on a Friday evening and wasn't able to put it down until the last page on that Sunday night. It's a book full of insight on clothes, unique thoughts about why women wear what they wear, and the stories behind significant outfits. The book also incorporates the sad lifestyle of factory workers in third-world countries and the clothes they manufacture (but can't afford) for American retailers and the much-needed explanation of getting dressed as required by differing religions.

From the beginning of the book, each author broke down their connection to fashion and the jobs and projects that they have worked on in a conversational format. I was intrigued by how much the book aims to reject mainstream fashion, specifically calling out Vogue and the general "fake stuff", clogging advertisements aimed at females requiring them to look a certain way. Do we all need to follow whatever trends an editor is "obsessed with" even if we aren't so sure how to rock it?

Women in Clothes is a philosophical approach on fashion, as it sort of democratizes fashion with a lower case "f" and decreases how intimidating it can be to talk about it in a fun way and through a public forum. For example, the excerpts on compliments throughout the book are unique, and call to attention the dialogue of women complimenting each other. Personally, I love getting compliments by complete strangers on the street or in public bathrooms while primping in the mirror. It's my way of connecting with different people I wouldn't normally talk to.
The artwork is as equally quirky with photographs of one contributor's trench coat and stripe shirt collections to random lipstick blots and photocopied hands. There are stories about hereditary style passed down from grandmother to daughter and subsequently granddaughter, a transgender man's insight on clothing, how aging affects style, and even how wearing makeup or eyeglasses play into getting dressed. One ongoing question that the book addresses is the difference between getting dressed and getting dressed up. While some people may have a clear distinction of the two , it's really about the individual's unique lifestyle. In the book, there is a response to a survey question where a girl remembers when her boss gave her a Dior suit as a gift, and despite the fact that she quit the position, she never wanted to sell it. Meanwhile, my survey responses were about my love of gift-giving and recalling my favorite item which I gifted my sister. I also wrote about my hair (obviously) and the point when I started to feel comfortable with wearing my natural curls. It's funny to see how all these voices fit together in one book and I realized how much we all have in common, even if it's not apparent at first glance..

Here are a few ideas from the book that got me going...

Leanne''s STONER/GAY theory: I literally laughed for five minutes on the Uptown C-Train on my way back from from work, and a few people were staring at me holding this thick book in my hand, wondering what could possibly be so hilarious. The lead author Sheila Heti introduces this concept of how people dress based on her stoner- gay theories and it couldn't be more accurate. Today's style, especially street style, is mixed with this rebel, 80's punk mentality alongside an obsession with J Crew and Zara fashions. If wearing army fatigue with a wool black fedora isn't stoner-gay-ish, then I don't know how else I could possibly understand Sheila's theory...

"I do care about your party" : There are a few stories about how religion play a role in personal style that really bring clarity to why some women choose to wear a veil living in a world driven by pop culture. One woman spoke about her feelings wearing religious garments throughout grade school, and how a classmate's compliment gave her a lifetime of confidence. And there's another powerful, yet humorous essay about why one woman who wears a hijab doesn't think her body is any of the public space's business. I thought this woman's passionate and sassy argument about why she chooses to wear the jilbab and hijab was not only powerful, but also relatable in the sense of why some may get dressed to draw attention away from the physically sexual attributes that stir unwanted compliments. Not only was this writer truthful in her passionate argument about getting dressed for a party, she's allowing herself to be free from the street harassment that happens daily and is disgustingly plaguing America's urban cities. I really loved this essay.

The evolution of Clothes: A numerical manifesto of clothing and how we acquire them in society is presented in a futuristic point of view. The manifestos are so left-field, it alludes to rejecting retail and returning to trading and finding clothing. The excerpt describes the value of clothing in stores, and why the more luxurious items are guarded under spotlights, bringing meaning to how sacred types of clothing can appear to the buyer or the window shopper which furthers our collective identities of the role our clothes play in culture. Interestingly enough, it highlights the surplus of clothing and how there are so many methods to obtain clothing for us to act in the way that we do. That is to say, maybe we should change the way we look and the way we purchase clothing in the first place. Is it really necessary to spend so much money on one item? The Stella McCartney dress I've been lusting over since I tried it on at a Saks Pre-Sale last year is still the price of my rent. Yet, it keeps on resurfacing into my style mood, and it's even named in this book! It's haunting me guys - seriously. Should I buy it? Meanwhile, it's up for debate whether we should be placing more value on second-hand items or creating a way for other people to reap the benefits of clothing that no longer holds importance in our lives.

To read more about the book and survey responses, go here: women in clothes.